When the dust settled from last year’s rush of resort openings, revamps and rebrands, the Las Vegas hospitality landscape was once again transformed. Thus, while my 2015 edition of Best Bets is foremost a compendium of outstanding products, it’s also a tribute to Vegas-style evolution.
Best Serene Retreat on the Strip: Delano
In a striking transformation from TheHotel at Mandalay Bay, the completely renewed, 42-story, 1,117-suite Delano is a South Beach-meets-Southwest fusion that turned what was a respectable yet unexciting convention property into an atmospheric boutique hotel. From the chic and stunning entryway to the understated-but-elegant room decor, the nonsmoking, nongaming Delano is a luxurious and tranquil oasis within Mandalay Bay’s busy mega-complex. The zen-like serenity of the public areas, enhanced by perfect lighting, attractive scents, comfortable furniture and warm colors, welcomes us back from the hectic Strip.
Best Guilty Pleasure: Machine Guns Vegas
With the dubious yet impressive distinction of achieving what is possibly the pinnacle of political incorrectness, Machine Guns Vegas does all sorts of damage, both virtual and physical. And while the Seal Team 6 Experience enables guests to fire four intimidating weapons at the indoor range, the Just Divorced package stands out for its sheer chutzpah: The ex and four girlfriends shooting holes into wedding memorabilia with a pink assault rifle. For $499, what could be more cathartic?
Las Vegas Best Bets for 2015
Best Dim Sum on the Strip: Noodles
Although Hong Kong-style, dim sum pushcarts aren’t exactly ubiquitous on the Strip, you’d still expect sticker shock along with your dumplings at Noodles, a rich-looking, pan-Asian noodle house inside the Bellagio. But what you get is authentic and delicious dim sum such as crab meat and vegetable dumplings and roast duck pastry that rival Chinatown’s best, at a price you can live with. Note: Dim sum is only available Fridays through Sundays.
Best Place to See and Be Seen: Giada
Caesars Entertainment bet big when it rebuilt Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall (formerly the Barbary Coast) into the Cromwell, a 188-room boutique hotel on the hottest corner of the Strip. And a big part of that bet rested on the shoulders of TV chef Giada de Laurentiis, whose modern Italian menu at her eponymous restaurant features her signature lemon spaghetti and chicken marsala meatballs. But it’s the drop-dead gorgeous room, great people-watching and striking, panoramic views that really top off the experience.
Best Aesthetic Experience on the Strip: The Cosmopolitan
In a city where form often overwhelms function, it’s refreshing to experience an elegant realization of an artistic aesthetic in a Strip resort. With an eclectic, public-area art collection, striking architectural design, thick art tomes in each room, stunning lobby video columns and spectacular vistas from its unique terraces, the Cosmopolitan transcends the over-the-top glitz so common in Las Vegas. Quite simply, it’s beautiful.
Best Pasta Innovations: B&B Ristorante
With celebrity chef-driven restaurants of varying quality and concept now ubiquitous on the Strip, dining at a classic Italian ristorante that turns out consistently innovative and delicious pastas is a rare pleasure. B&B chef Mario Batali has created a six-course Pasta Tasting Menu that showcases the kitchen’s strengths with delicacies like summer squash agnolotti and goat cheese tortelloni — themselves both beautiful, Italian works of art befitting their place in the Venetian.
Best Adult Revue: Sexxy
Vegas visitors need a good reason to go off-Strip, and multi-talented producer, choreographer and star Jennifer Romas gives them one with her topless revue at the Westgate Las Vegas. Typifying truth in advertising, the series of erotic vignettes featuring Romas and six talented, hard-working showgirls is not only “Sexxy” but an acrobatic tour de force. And Romas’ water-splashed, bathtub scene, simultaneously dangerous and erotic, must be seen to be believed.
Best Spanish Restaurant: Julian Serrano
Considered by many to be the quintessential Spanish dish, paella has become a virtual litmus test for Iberian restaurants’ authenticity. Its preparation is tricky, so quality and consistency vary widely and thus rarely achieve the level of perfection found at Julian Serrano. The kitchen at the chef’s eponymous restaurant at Aria not only gets the classic dish just right, but their modern take on tapas is also outstanding, as the prime tenderloin with cheese and the foie gras with apple demonstrate.
Best Chocolate Experience: Hexx Chocolate
Claiming to be Nevada’s only bean-to-bar, chocolate-making operation, Hexx Chocolate at Paris Las Vegas sets naturally high expectations for its finished product — and ultimately delivers. Working only with cacao beans sourced from five countries within 20 degrees of the equator, Hexx’s chocolatiers produce an array of luscious, artisanal “confexxions” in a show kitchen that mercilessly tempts those sitting at the strategically placed dessert counter.
Best Afternoon Magic Show: Paranormal
In an impressive field of contenders, Frederic Da Silva’s mind-blowing show at Bally’s gets the nod for originality, talent and gee-whiz mindreading. Da Silva’s gregarious personality powers the fast-moving and amazing performance, which features several incredible bits that leave the audience scratching their heads, wondering whether their innermost thoughts were fair game for the mentalist’s skillful thievery.
David Yeskel has been producing an annual "Las Vegas' Best Bets" for Travel Weekly since 2003.